Patience Earns LSA Weight Exemption for Spin Resistant Icon A5

By Scott Spangler on July 29th, 2013 | Comments Off

634A3383More than a year ago Icon Aircraft petitioned the FAA for an exemption from the LSA max weight limit so it would incorporate the structure that made the A5 fully meet the FAA Part 23 standard for spin resistance. Announcement that the FAA granted that exemption, allowing the amphibious LSA to fly at a max gross weight of 1,680 pounds, started EAA AirVenture Oshkosh on a positive note on July 29.

Some have criticized the FAA for taking 14 months to respond to Icon’s request, but after reading the 17-page exemption document, given the process, the FAA moved with alacrity. Formal petitions for exemptions are like notices of proposed rule making. They must be published in the Federal Register, and people have time to comment on them. And then the FAA must respond to each of those comments.

After working through its process, the FAA said, “the combined design features and SRA [spin resistant airframe] concepts incorporated into the ICON A5 design…are recognized by the FAA as significant safety enhancements.”

634A3381And Icon isn’t stopping there. An angle of attack indicator has always been a member of the airplane’s instrument family, but the latest iteration of the panel puts a clearly understood indicator top dead center. And instead of spouting thousands of words about why it’s important, it makes a clear and simple point in a video that shows the AOA indication as the A5 makes a 180-degree turn in a 90 degree bank.

Icon CEO Kirk Hawkins said the first four A5s, which will be dedicated to certification, will come off the line early in 2014. And if all goes according to schedule with a successful conclusion, customers will start flying away their airplanes late in the year. And with candor all too rare when it comes to developing a new product, Hawkins said there is “no free lunch.” The A5 list price, reflecting the SRA structure, more expensive Rotax 912 iS engine, and other features, the list price has increased to $189,000. When one looks at the return of safety and outright enjoyment that this investment makes possible, it is truly one of aviation’s better deals. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Bloggers Play a Significant Role in Aviation Media

By Robert Mark on July 23rd, 2013 | 6 Comments »

Every aviation blogger I’ve ever met is certain they possess a magic grasp on their own little corner of the industry, which is of course why we all do what we do.

Some bloggers are just better writers than others, or better marketers of their magazines or are simply luckier than the rest … maybe even some combination of all three. We offer a look at some aspect of the industry the mainstream media either doesn’t see or believes no one cares much about in general aviation, the airlines, business aviation and safety. Then of course, there are the aviation stories the mainstream media simply don’t understand too.

There is a black hole in new media though since anyone can hang out an “expert” shingle. Honestly, some industry speculators are really lousy at explaining anything, not to mention just plain wrong at times. A growing number of aviation netizens have started getting cranky lately when any of us new-media types start trying to educate the media about aviation and I think that’s a mistake.

Asiana

As a kid who earned his pilot certificates in the general aviation world before moving on to bigger iron, I’m always excited when the mainstream media contacts me for an explanation or opinion because they’re already acknowledging they don’t have all the answers, but want them. Often it’s something simple like translating aviation speak into a language the other 99% of the people in America can understand. Other topics are more serious, like a few weeks ago after the Asiana 777 accident in San Francisco. Reporters and producers called in search of someone to help make sense out of an industry they understand little about, not to mention explaining the facts as they emerged that weekend. And certainly in the Asiana accident, the NTSB made my job easier by releasing facts as they appeared early in the process.

Jail the Speculators?

I see my media sessions as a chance to give something back to people who want to know more … people who often have no more connection to aviation than buying a seat on an airliner or watching the trainers fly patterns at their local airport. I certainly have no allegiance to any particular network, which is why my mug was plastered around quite a bit on Fox News, NBC and CNN after the SFO accident. On the radio, calls came in from WGN Radio in Chicago, WLW from Cincinnati and WTMJ in Milwaukee. I found all the hosts bright and cordial and all needed the same thing … to help their viewers and listeners understand aviation by adding the perspective of someone who flies, teaches and writes about the industry. Read the rest of this entry »

Fair Taxation Instead of Aviation User Fees

By Scott Spangler on July 15th, 2013 | 8 Comments »

Inadequate revenue from aviation taxes on fuel and tickets, which fund the U.S. aviation infrastructure and the agency that regulates it, is how some in the FAA justify their desire for user fees to make up the difference. Before they go there, why doesn’t government catch up with current airline business practices and include the myriad fees that are not subject to the ticket tax.

Looking at untaxed airline baggage fees.

We’re taking some serious money here, an average of $250 million a year from baggage fees alone, according to a Washington Post article, “As airlines raise fees instead of fares, taxpayers pick up the tab.”  As the article’s graphic above shows, between 2007 and 2012 the airlines collected $12.8 billion in baggage fees. At the 7.5 percent ticket tax rate, that’s $960 million in lost revenue. During the same period, the airlines charged another $11 billion to change a ticket.

Simply put, airline fees not subject to the ticket tax is one reason why aviation revenue has not kept pace with its costs. Let’s face it, we’d all like tax-free income, but it is not fair to anyone who pays the fees and uses the system. The DoT took the first step in its fiduciary responsibilities when it required airlines to include all applicable fees when passengers bought a ticket. Making the total subject to the ticket tax seem the logical next step.

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With Air Show ATC Fees, the FAA is Following the Airlines’ Lead

By Scott Spangler on July 1st, 2013 | 27 Comments »

Searching for a scintilla of logic behind the FAA’s ATC fees  for the air traffic control services it provides at fly-ins, I realized that the roughly $500,000 bill it sent EAA AirVenture Oshkosh was, in effect, an airline baggage fee. From either source, forget all their trumpeted rationalizations. That nonsense drowned in the fetid swamp of cynicism government and big business long ago created as they redeveloped society so that it met their needs at the expense of their customers.

In other words, they did it because they could.

Government has been trying to recreate an airline business model of charging fees for everything, and sequestration gave them the “authorization” to do it. What’s really ironic is that airline fees, which are not taxed like tickets or fuel, contribute no revenue to the aviation infrastructure, airports, capital improvements, and FAA operations including ATC. Yup, airline fees are a parasite, and to make up for the financial nutrition it sucks from the system, FAA is starting with ATC fees.

According to the Washington Post, since they started the practice, the airlines have collected $12.8 billion in fees for something that was once free. In 2012 they collected $924 million—that’s right, nearly a billion dollars—in baggage fees, a 3 percent increase over the same period in 2011. Oh, and baggage fees are not taxed like airline tickets. With the aviation fuel tax, this ticket revenue pays for the American aviation infrastructure, at least until FAA fees on all the services it provides takes over.

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Make & Read Pilot/IFR Training Comments

By Scott Spangler on June 17th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

 

Photo: Michael Pieracci

With just 130 or so comments received by the May 24 deadline, I guess the FAA felt it didn’t have enough flight training comments on its Draft Airman Certification Standards that its Airman Testing Standards & Training Work Group created for the private pilot certificate and instrument rating.

If you care, you have until July 8 to review the standards and comment on them. And even if you’ve been flying for years, you should care because you’ll be sharing the sky with pilots trained to these standards. A nifty website lets you read and comment on Docket FAA-2013-0316.

An interesting aspect of this website is that you can read the 140 comments posted as of Saturday, June 15. This is more fun than Facebook! And it can be more beneficial because it seems that you can comment on the comments, which builds an argument for and against the proposals.

Ready access to the comments also enables flaming wars of words that serve no other purpose than polishing one’s favorite ax. In wandering through the comments, I was heartened to see that, so far, that aviation has not been poisoned, like our political discourse, with zero-sum attitudes.

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Should We Teach Pilot Judgment?

By Robert Mark on June 12th, 2013 | 22 Comments »

CirrusI was just watching the animation of an Cirrus SR-22 accident caused by poor pilot judgment near Boynton Beach, Fla. in November 2011. The crash claimed the lives of two pilots. “More money than sense,” was all I could think to say after watching, although the “blind leading the blind” might have also fit.

The NTSB report blamed the accident on, “The right seat pilot’s decision to attempt a low-altitude aerobatic maneuver in a non-aerobatic airplane.”

The more experienced right seat pilot seemed to have been showing the lesser-time left seat aviator how to roll the SR-22 over an open field at a GPS-derived altitude of 29 feet above the ground. The right-seater apparently never actually took any aerobatic training however.

The NTSB report says, “The accident airplane … began a roll to the left, and, as the airplane rolled toward an inverted attitude, the pitch quickly began decreasing below the horizon. The airplane then began a rapid descent and impacted the marsh below in a 68-degree nose-down pitch attitude. Postaccident examination of the wreckage revealed no evidence of any preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airframe or engine that would preclude normal operation.”

So was it training, or a lack of it that caused the commercially-rated right seat pilot to try this stunt? Was it the fact that the adrenalin was flowing steadily in both of these guys because the two of them were on the way back from a local air show and were flying in formation with a couple of actually-certified aerobatic airplanes?

Somehow, calling the pilot stupid here seems a bit too simplistic.

To me, the real question is whether anyone ever told this guy that he could actually kill himself in an airplane by trying stupid stunts like this. But then, do we really need to say that? Considering the number of fatalities in general aviation airplanes the past years, maybe we do. But I wondered whether trying to tell this pilot anything would have avoided this accident.

In case you’re wondering, the pilot didn’t pull the Cirrus’ chute. At that low of an altitude, it wouldn’t have changed anything anyway.

Watch an animation of the flight created by Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association’s Rick Beach from the SR-22’s data stream. Note: The Cirrus incorporates a mini-black box of sorts in the MFD that records each flight’s date, time, altitude, attitude and power setting.

Airplane Geeks Coming to Udvar-Hazy

By Robert Mark on June 4th, 2013 | Comments Off

Just about the time you thought you’d have a Saturday free to kick back and goof off comes word that The Airplane Geeks will again be a part of the Air & Space Museum’s Become a Pilot Day on June 15th. Now of course if you live outside the Washington DC area, you might not care — although that would be hard for any of us to believe.

AG at A&S

(L-R) – Rob Mark, Max Flight, David Vanderhoof and Benet Wilson

But if you do live around the DC area and find yourself with a little free time on Saturday June 15th, come on out to the Boeing Hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport … oh, maybe about 11 am or so.

It’s your chance to comer out, say hi, meet some geeks — me of course, David, Max and even AOPA’s Benet Wilson. Maybe take part in the show if you have something to say. We’d love to meet and chat with you.

Of course we’ll have plenty of Jetwhine and Airplane Geeks buttons to give away which will probably make the trip worthwhile alone … well, at least to me.

We’re not sure precisely where we’ll be set up at Udvar-Hazy Center just yet, but someone will be able to point us out. Inside the Boeing Hangar, we’ll probably be the bunch that security has to keep asking to “keep the noise down.”

So put it in your calendar for June 15 between 11am & 2pm at the Udvar Hazy Center and the Dulles edition of the Air & Space Museum.

We’ll be looking for you.

Rob Mark, Publisher

Aircraft Development Awaits Disruptive Tech

By Scott Spangler on May 28th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Catching up on the news after a two-week vacation that was, like my last two week respite in 1975, totally disconnected from the wider world, on May 5 The New York Times reported that there are new aircraft designs in the works because “Jet Makers Avoid Risk by Redoing Old Models.”

Certainly, the realities of business weigh heavily in decisions that lead to new airplanes, but so does the state of aviation technology. Right now it seems to have reached a plateau, as piston-powered propellers had during World War II. Aviation will take the next big step when the disruptive technology, like the jet engines, appears on the horizon.

What that technology will be is anyone’s guess, and I’m sure the tech geeks might have more of a clue than I. But right now the technology that will lead to a sea change in aerospace designs and their capabilities it is not readily apparent.

So why not make proven aerial workhorses more efficient? Unlike other aspect of modern life, aviation does not easily fit into our disposable society, where new is better. If that were true, why is the DC-3 still earning its keep as the Basler Turbo Conversion BT-67?

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DOT Secretary: Out with the Old and in with … the Old

By Robert Mark on May 22nd, 2013 | 2 Comments »

After we recorded this week’s episode of the Airplane Geeks Show, I decided to turn over a new leaf and stop whining about people like the new DOT Secretary. To be honest, I had a little motivational help from our guest Jason Paur (@jasonpaur), a Wired magazine writer and an admitted airplane geek. Prior to the show I’d read his excellent story at Medium.com called Lift and Drag that wonders what happened to our love of flight. It’s worth reading.

Jason explained the upshot of his exploits at Medium.com and mentioned as an industry it might be time for a little less editorial whining and a little more aviation love. And Jason, I must confess that as a confirmed complainer, I heard you. And God knows I really do want to curb my appetite for calling people out.

That said however, I don’t think I can pull the reigns in this week after reading clips from The Hill’s Transportation blog about Mr. Obama’s Secretary selection, Anthony Foxx, to replace Ray LaHood.

Anthony Foxx

DOT Secretary nominee Anthony Foxx

As a guy from one of Mr. Obama’s home states, in addition to Ray LaHood’s, I promised myself I’d try and keep my mouth shut when the former mayor of Charlotte was first named to fill the slot. Jason … I really did try … honest.

But then The Hill’s Keith Laing reminded me some critics are upset because Foxx has no transportation experience. Will that even become a topic at today’s Senate hearing on Mr. Foxx’s confirmation I wondered? And of course it was about then that I remembered the Transportation slot is one of those department head positions the White House hands out to friends for good PR, because really … how much trouble can a Transportation Secretary get themselves into? Airport or ATC service funding falling apart on your watch … no big deal. The Foxx will fix it. Read the rest of this entry »

Unprofessional Airmanship Redefined

By Robert Mark on May 6th, 2013 | 32 Comments »

Remember when we called those two Northwest Airlines pilots who missed Minneapolis a few years back unprofessional because they were playing on their laptops instead of flying? We poked fun at them of course and well, no one was hurt … except for the pride of these two supposed professional aviators. But maybe we should have been tougher.

We talk a lot about professionalism these days, mostly because us old guys think many of the younger folks coming up the line don’t understand the meaning of the word. Perhaps they don’t because we’ve never taken the time to explain it … literally. I guess most of us never thought we needed to, but now I’m convinced that there are pilots jumping into some pretty large airplanes that seem completely unaware of their role as professional aviators.

A321Case in point is the Air India A321 on a recent flight between Bangkok and Delhi in which the two pilots actually left the cockpit of the aircraft within moments of each other at FL330, leaving command of the airliner in the hands of two non-pilot flight attendants. The pilots were both out of the cockpit for almost 40 minutes before one of the young flight attendants turned off the autopilot inadvertently and sent the two licensed aviators scurrying back up front. The two pilots as well as the two flight attendants were later suspended from work for their actions. None of the passengers knew what had happened until they read it in the newspapers.

To call this act unsafe is utterly too simplistic.

Despite the fact that most aviation accidents today are caused by pilot error, we’ve apparently reached a new low in professional pilot stupidity. What could possibly possess two high-time pilots to think that getting up mid-flight and leaving the fate of the 166 aboard to the two female seat monitors who were not even pilots was OK? My guess is this was not the first stupid decision these two made and more importantly, professionalism has nothing to do with the size of the aircraft someone flies. Read the rest of this entry »

Monday Morning Surprise at Flight Schools

By Scott Spangler on April 29th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Monarch-6Wandering around Addison Airport, a busy Dallas-area reliever, one Monday morning in late April, I dropped in, unannounced, at the airport’s four flight schools. Given the day and hour, I assumed they wouldn’t be busy and would have time to talk. Surprise is an inadequate word to describe their bustling student activity, that they offered warm, sincere greetings when I walked through the door, and that they took time to talk, even when they learned that I wasn’t a prospective student but just curious.

Monarch Air runs a fleet of Garmin G1000-equipped Cessna 172s and a similarly-equipped flight training device. Touring the facility and ramp, the instructors were mostly in their 20s and the half-dozen students I saw ranged from an equal age to double it. Everyone seemed engrossed in their particular lessons, but the body language of both students and teachers spoke the loudest: they were serious, but having fun. Smiles and shining eyes don’t lie.

ATP-4Similar environments and teaching activity awaited me at Airline Transport Professionals (or ATP) and American Flyers. Both offer professional and personal training, and both were in session during these two visits. The students I saw at ATP looked like they were somewhere on either side of 30, except for the guy in the school’s computer testing facility. A Piper Seminole was parked on the ramp, and I assumed the student I saw briefing with his instructor would soon slide into its left seat.

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Being There: UAV Crews & Combat Valor

By Scott Spangler on April 25th, 2013 | 9 Comments »

Bowing to pressure from military and veterans groups who clearly don’t understand the rigors of combat at the controls of armed drones, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has replaced the proposed Distinguished Warfare Medal with a device that will be affixed to an existing award.

The award’s ranking relative to other military awards was part of the opponents’ complaints, but they revealed their true motivation when they called it the “Nintendo” medal. What matters most to them is “being there” in battle, and all they see are the drone pilots’ distant duty stations.

As the number of combatants suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome increases, everyone should accept that the consequences of combat are more than physical. In this regard, remote pilots and their enlisted system operators share an intimate relationship with death unequaled, except by snipers, who also see the faces of their targets.

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Sometimes Saying No is Just Plane Stupid

By Robert Mark on April 22nd, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Looking back on the decade of my life I spent working at FAA I remember one thing for certain. When someone at the agency told me “No,” the reasons were seldom clear.

“No,” might have meant something as simple as “No,” because I don’t agree with that idea or even “No,” because the idea came from me. Sometimes “No,” meant my boss didn’t know the answer and he or she didn’t want to ask anyone else. Or sometimes “No,” meant my boss actually did know the answer and it came from pretty high up so just deal with it. Of course I haven’t worked at FAA for 25 years.

FAA-Logo_thumb.jpgAs the Sunday deadline to begin controller furloughs passed last, airline passengers, business aviation operaorts and even flight training companies have no idea what’s coming next now that sequestration-induced furloughing of air traffic controllers has begun. Air traffic delays could be ugly now that FAA decided air traffic controllers are no longer essential personnel … nor are safety inspectors or the technicians that keep all the electronic gear the FAA uses up and running.

Think about that new “non-essential” ATC tag for a moment. I recall the Reason Foundation’s Bob Poole and I chatting just a few weeks ago about how ATC was considered an essential government service to people who did not support privitization. Now FAA says these folks are not really that important. The FAA never raised the issue of controllers not being essential until this week, when that move worked in their favor.

Aviation Takes Another Right to the Jaw

When FAA was asked by Airlines for America (A4A), the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and the Regional Airline Association (RAA) to take a deep breath and rethink the furloughs, perhaps the same way the FAA did (OK, they were pressured into it) the issue of contract tower closures, the agency said no, claiming they don’t have that kind of budget flexibility. We all believe that don’t we, especially when the agency somehow managed to find the cash to extend contract tower discussions until mid-June.

Of course the essential question is why aviation? That answer’s actually pretty simple.

LaHood

About now, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood is probably wondering where is replacement is.

Mr. Huerta and his team said no, because our pragmatic DOT Secretary Ray LaHood told them to say no. And of course, Mr. (did my resignation take effect yet?) LaHood takes his marching orders from the White House who has decided that aviation is the one place in the nation where the Democrat’s scolding of Republicans will have the greatest effect. Read the rest of this entry »

Instructor Academy Gives Beech a Future

By Scott Spangler on April 15th, 2013 | Comments Off

imageThe recent announcement that the American Bonanza Society and its ABS Air Safety Foundation had established the ABS Flight Instructor Academy was not only good news, it was a surprise. For some reason I’d thought that it had been around as long as ABS’s exemplary Bonanza Pilot Proficiency Program, which has been providing type-specific training for 30 years.

Perhaps it was, in an informal sharing of information among the the BPPP instructors. I took the course in 1991, and my instructor was Sandy Provenzano, 1990’s Flight Instructor of the Year, and knowledge of the F33 Bonanza I was flying surprised not only me, her knowledge revealed new insights to the airplane’s long-time owner.

The need for the ABS Instructor Academy has never been greater. Given the business travails of their maker, the Beech Bonanza, Debonair, Baron, and Travel Air are essentially orphans now. When these piston survivors are adopted by new owners, finding a qualified CFI for an in-depth checkout isn’t easy. The ABS Instructor Academy solves this problem and, given the challenges facing general aviation, groups dedicated to the support of other makes and models should take note of this solution and its mission, “to protect lives and preserve the Beechcraft fleet.”

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Dragonfly Vision & Hungry Midair Meetings

By Scott Spangler on April 8th, 2013 | 7 Comments »

Like many aviators I appreciate anything that flies whether it’s a manmade machine or product of natural selection. Among insect aeronauts the dragonfly is my favorite. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t envy its ability to rapidly fly from point to point (at speeds up to 30 mph!), make directional changes to the left, right, or reverse with the alacrity that would rip the wings off most machines, and then quick-stop into a motionless hover.

What I didn’t know, until I read  “Nature’s Drone, Pretty and Deadly” in The New York Times on April 1, is that dragonflies are “brutal aerial predators, and new research suggests they may well be the most brutally effective hunters in the animal kingdom.” Even more amazing, they do it using a skill all pilots should have learned from their instructors early in training. I won’t bore you with the details of the research (my wife has already suffered for you), but the dragonfly’s mastery of this skill enables them to snatch midair meals with a success rate of 95 percent.

Research attributes this amazing kill ratio to the dragonflies brain, eyes, and wings. It has “an almost human capacity for selective attention, able to focus on a single” bug among a cloud of fluttering insects. Other researchers have identified “a kind of master circuit of 16 neurons that connects the dragonfly’s brain to its flight motor center in the thorax.” In other words, this fly-by-wire insect can “track a moving target, calculate a trajectory to intercept that target, and subtly adjust its path as needed.”

Obviously, this is a skill combat pilots must hone to survive. And understanding the key visual concept that contributes greatly to the success of fighter pilots and dragonflies alike will help civilian pilots achieve the opposite outcome—avoiding a midair meeting, which more often than not happens within 5 miles of an airport the participants are flying toward or have just left.

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J-bot Drones Give Journalists a New View

By Scott Spangler on April 1st, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Not long ago, the periodic newsgram from my alma mater reported the birth of a new course at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Science Investigative Reporting/Drone Journalism. The nation’s first J school, now more than a century old, has always been forward thinking, so it didn’t surprise me that the course was part of the University of Missouri Drone Program, a collaboration between the J school, MU’s information technology program and its Drone Lab, and the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources.

Being J-schoolers, three seniors in the program launched a blog, The Missouri Drone Journalism Program. It tracks their progress in the class taught by Bill Allen, an assistant professor of science journalism. The three bloggers, Jaime Cooke, Zach Garcia, and Robert Partyka, write about more than learning to fly the camera-equipped J-bot drones. This is the Missouri J School, which means students learn not only how, but why and what’s legal when and where.

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See and Avoid: Airplanes and Partisan Politics

By Scott Spangler on March 25th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Since the FAA issued the list of contract towers it will close to satisfy the self-inflicted sequester, I’ve been reading a lot of wailing and gnashing and incredulous screeds of how could they? Common to everything I’ve read so far is the pointy fingered whine of put-upon victims. Let’s get real here. We got what we voted for. All of us.

AIMOur elected officials—all of them—embody the ideological narcissism that has, over the past three decades, grown bitter in many of us and turned America’s future into a zero-sum game. If one side can’t win, it will do its upmost to guarantee that the other side will lose. We gave them power—we encouraged their behavior—every time we voted, every time we raised our fist in support or condemnation of candidates who promised to govern in our best interest but only answer to and serve those who finance their duplicitous endeavors.

Before air traffic controllers took to towers to help pilots make their way to and from airports safely, we all learned that as the pilot in command, we alone are ultimately responsible for the safety of our flight, to see and avoid other airplanes that could compromise this sacred responsibility, something we all too eagerly surrender to others, whether they be in an air traffic control tower or an elected office.

If we’re not happy with the world we have created with our votes and political support, only we can change it by seeing and avoiding those who have done our bidding and brought us to today’s place in history. Changing course, if that’s what we as a collective whole really want, will take time. We didn’t create this problem overnight, so we will not rectify the situation as quickly as we might like.

Time will tell if we have the gumption to summon and sustain the unified focus and the willingness to sacrifice in the name of compromise because we accept that in zero-sum situations, we all lose. In the meantime, let’s stay safe out there. As we should when flying to and from any airport when VFR, we should have our heads up and rotating, systematically searching our surroundings for traffic on an unfortunate trajectory. (This essential see & avoid maneuver should work as well when it comes to those who want to serve as our elected officials.)  And if it’s been awhile since you’ve flown to a nontowered airport, before you fly, add this to your preflight planning:  Aeronautical Information Manual, Section 3—Airport Operations. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Pilot Population & Demographic Stability

By Scott Spangler on March 20th, 2013 | 17 Comments »

Most pilots know that the test of an airplane’s dynamic stability is to trim for a specific hands-off speed, increase or decrease pitch to a faster or slower speed, then let go of the stick and measure the time it takes to resume the hands-off speed. It’s my contention that seeking its demographic stability is what the U.S population has been doing since 1980, when it peaked at 827,000 active aviators. That also happens to be the year that the last Baby Boomers, born in 1964, became old enough to solo.

Working in round numbers, the first of 76 million Baby Boomers were born in 1946. They were old enough to get a private certificate in 1963. I wasn’t able to find the number of active pilots that year, but it probably wasn’t much more than 1964’s 431,000. Certainly, we Boomers aren’t the sole source of the rapidly increasing population, but as were in other facets of the American demographic landscape, we were the dominant variable.

As we came of age, the pilot population blossomed like flowers in spring. By 1969, when Boomers ranged in age from 23 to 5, there were 720,000 pilots. Over the next decade the population climbed in five-figure steps to its peak in 1980, when they ranged from 36 to 16. The decline that started then is, most likely, the retirement of pilots of the Greatest Generation, born between 1901 and 1924, and the so-called Silent Generation, born between 1925 and 1945.

And now it’s our turn. Until 2005, given a point or two fluctuation, Boomers accounted for more than half of the pilot population. That changed in 2006, when the first Boomers turned 60. After our self-inflicted economic melt-down, the Boomer’s representation fell to 43 percent of all pilots. In 2011, it was 40 percent. With 8,000 of us turning 60 every day, and the uncertain financial world in which we one day hope to retire, I expect this trend will continue with increasing speed.

Where the pilot population will find its demographic stability is anyone’s guess. Looking at the succeeding generations and their financial futures and opportunities, my guess is 300,000 or less.

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Air France 447 and Sleep Deprivation: A Fatal Link

By Robert Mark on March 17th, 2013 | 8 Comments »

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Every journalist who has writtten in the past few years about the 2009 Air France accident has eventually ended up asking the same question … why did an experienced crew react to the weather the way they did, as well as to the failure of some of the flight instruments aboard the A330 and why did none of them recognize that their airplane was falling from the sky.

Now we might have at least one of the answers; sleep deprivation. The National Sleep Foundation reports sleep deprivation can impair a person’s reaction times and performance even more than alcohol consumption. The more significant the deprivation, the greater the impairment.

The French news magazine Le Point broke a story on Saturday based on a transcript of the Air France 447’s cockpit voice recorder that until now was unknown. Le Point reports Captain Marc DuBois telling his two cockpit crewmembers less than two hours after departure from Rio, “I didn’t sleep enough last night. One hour – it’s not enough.” Another story in Saturday’s Mail Online said the two co-pilots also lacked adequate rest before the Rio to Paris flight began on the evening May 31, 2009. Flight crew rest, especially for pilots traveling across multiple times zones as was the Air France crew, has become the focus of major regulatory actions in both the U.S. and Europe over the past few years. The revelations about the fatigued states of these pilot before they began what would have been a 10-hour flight to Paris are certain to alter how the industry evaluates the amount of rest any flightcrew has had prior to takeoff. Read the rest of this entry »

Cash for Towers: You Can help

By Robert Mark on March 13th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Still Time to Save Some Towers — Straight off the massive printing presses at the General Aviation Airport Coalition in Washington comes late word that a deal is in the works to pull some cash from one place and send it somewhere else. What’s new about that push is it might just keep some of the busiest control towers in the nation alive and kicking … at least until the end of September. Now get busy and call … no time left for writing.

Rob Mark, Publisher

Mar 13 poster